Interview by Justin Meltzer
QFTD: Tell us a little about yourself. Who is Dan Katz?
Dan: Dan Katz is a 25-year-old living in New York City, originally from Newton, MA. I currently work at The Huffington Post, where I am Chief of Staff to the President and Editor-in-Chief, Arianna Huffington. Other than that, I‘m a son, a brother, a friend, and lots of other things.
QFTD: Chief of Staff, political campaigner, you have tremendous passion for your work, especially when it comes to social issues. Where does that passion come from?
Dan: It definitely comes from how I was raised and very simply being instilled with the idea that success in life needs to be more than doing something for yourself. It is not a fulfilling life unless you’re trying to give back in some way, to have an impact on the world, and to have purpose intertwined in whatever it is you are doing. It’s also a far less interesting life if you are living it just for yourself. If I can be a value-add in everything I do, then life will take on much more meaning, and I will be happier.
The context in which I started my career is also very influential. My passion for politics was sparked by my high school graduation aligning with President Obama’s 2008 campaign, and the sudden feeling that young people have a voice, and a place, in the electoral cycle. The internet was emerging in a very real way politically, which made it a very exciting time to be turning eighteen and to get obssessed with the political process. For me and others my age, we felt this increased perception of the importance of our voice. I remember spending hours making calls from my room to Iowans as a senior in high school, working off of online campaigning tools that were just in their infancy. The idea that you could be so connected despite geographical distance added to the feeling that I could truly make a mark.
QFTD: What tasks are part of being the Chief of Staff to Arianna Huffington?
Dan: As Chief of Staff, I work with Arianna to oversee The Huffington Post's 850 employees in 15 countries. I help to coordinate our priorities across the company, and I work very closely with her on executing those priorities, whether it’s our current campaigns to create a cultural shift around sleep and wellness, HuffPost's growth in video, or big events such as the World Economic Forum, to name a few examples.
QFTD: What is it like being Chief of Staff for Arianna Huffington?
Dan: It’s remarkable. Everyday is a new learning experience. Everyday I think: how can I do better for the success of the company and what do we stand for? For me, to work with brilliant people who care deeply about what they’re doing is a total gift.
QFTD: What began your journey?
Dan: Different worlds came together. My first job out of college, I was the research assistant to David Gergen, who is a Harvard Professor and a political analyst on CNN, and he became a remarkable mentor for me. Among other things, I worked with him on growing the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard, and through that work encountered so many impressive young people, hungry to make an impact on the world and doing it in such innovative ways. I knew I wanted to be in a position where I could help build something -- where I could learn strategy and execution, but also where improving the world was a key metric of success.
QFTD: You've spent lots of time on the political scene, lots of campaign trails. How have those experiences helped you in your current work?
Dan: Starting in college on the campaign trail is a phenomenal training ground. Campaigns are small, they’re scrappy, and they’re essentially like working for a start-up company, where everyone is doing everything. As a young person, I was tasked with anything from leading big projects, to fundraising, to fine-tuning a candidate’s remarks. It gave me a chance to work at a level that I probably wouldn’t have been afforded in other worlds. Also, being so fast moving, I was able to jump into many different projects - one after the other - while still taking classes. It gave me the training to work in many different fields.
That scrappiness is incredibly important. In education, there’s a hot question: how do you teach grit? In part, I think learning grit is learning how to get stuff done despite obstacles and finite resources. There are few better places to do that than a campaign because every resource is so sacred, deadlines are so near, and there is this incredible team dynamic.
QFTD: In your profession, what brings you the most satisfaction?
Dan: I love the fact that in my current role, the Huffington Post is both a publisher and a platform. Within that platform, we are able to give a voice to many incredible people - social entrepreneurs, nonprofits - who are doing amazing things and just want their ideas heard. I love the partnerships we are doing with groups, ranging from the Harlem Children’s Zone, to The Future Project, to the UN, and to companies who are focused on how purpose and profit align.
A specific example of this is an editorial initiative we’ve been pursuing for over a year now called “What’s Working”. The purpose of it is to find the solutions to the biggest problems of our time that should be scaled, and through our coverage and our platform we try to spotlight them, so they can get attention and resources to have even more impact. I love that we can be the accelerator, the agent for good, the starter for what we call “positive contagion”.
QFTD: What does the future look like for the way online news is distributed? Do you foresee any big changes?
Dan: It’s incredibly fast changing. We’re headed into what folks call the “distributed era of media.” What that means is that people are consuming content on an increasing number of social platforms, and so a publisher needs to find a way to write and produce differentiated content optimized for a given platform. So, our job right now on The Huffington Post is to go where the readership is.
A second thing is that video is huge. We’re seeing a shift from desktop to mobile and from primarily text to a mix of text and video and multimedia.
A final thing that is becoming self-evident is that standing for something in media is really important: knowing what you stand for and being principled matters. The sort of brand resonance that Huffington Post has and has had for eleven years is due to the fact that it stands for something. We have three editorial pillars that drive everything we do: news and politics, wellness, and the "What's Working" solutions journalism initiative I mentioned earlier.
Knowing what we stand for has enabled us to have the reach and impact that we do.
QFTD: Do you have any projects coming up you're able to share? Please elaborate
Dan: One of the topics we’re really obsessed with is sleep, and sleep essentially as a performance enhancement tool. It comes from our realization that we have this collective delusion that sleep is an impediment to success. People seem to think that in order to be successful, they have to give up sleep. And yet the latest science tells us the exact opposite – that sleep is vital for decision-making and preventing major health issues. What we need to do is shift our collective mindset towards recognizing sleep and mindfulness as not only biologically critical, but also critical to success in the things we care about. We’re doing a lot around that. We’ve got a college tour in which we’re working with 100 colleges, trying to change the relationships students have with sleep. We’re already seeing it take hold!
We’re also working across a number of industries, including sports, to create this cultural shift . We’re working, for instance, with Andre Iguodala from the Golden State Warriors, who changed his sleep habits and saw remarkable improvements in his game.
QFTD: He actually hit two big free throws last night with the game on the line to send it into overtime. Did you see that?
Dan: Exactly, exactly, and I bet he got 7-8 hours of sleep the night before. Kobe Bryant is another athlete who prioritizes sleep and mindfulness. We’re beginning to see sleep, mindfulness, and wellness entering into the regime of athletes, where athletes treat their bodies like machines. They need to view sleep as a necessary input, which serves as a great example for the rest of us.
QFTD: If you could offer any advice to a young person who aspires to enter your field, what would you say?
Dan: One, read everything you can get your hands on. Find whatever fascinates you and immerse yourself in the conversation. Understand who the players are and what the history is.
Second, go out there and network. Make a conscious effort to find really interesting people, not for the purpose of getting a job, but just to learn what they’re doing and how they got to where they are. I can’t tell you how many meetings, lunches, and coffees I've had where the only agenda was to learn something new.
Finally, once you get into a position that’s really interesting, of course you’re going to work incredibly hard, but you will do your best work if you really are taking care of yourself, finding time for yourself, remembering the important things in life, and really focusing on your health and wellness.
To see more about Dan Katz, click below.